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Harris County adds additional early-voting sites, preventative measures for July primary runoff

Voting this year will look a lot different than it has in previous years.

HOUSTON — Monday was the last day to register to vote for the primary runoff elections on July 14. It was pushed back from May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Harris County’s top election official said Monday he’s making changes to make the process more efficient and safer. After the March primary brought long lines and waits of up to six hours for voters, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who started June 1, said he’s using a new approach for a smoother July runoff.

“The way to do that is do better allocate machines to make sure that the number of machines that are in each polling location match the traffic that’s expected there,” Hollins said.

Hollins said his office has mapped out the process in order to get the results to central counting faster. Also, more machines were bought from other counties.

Now, they’re adjusting their plan because of the pandemic. That includes 57 early voting sites, five more than during the March early-voting period.

“We’re taking extra precautions around floor markers and spacing out the machines, plexiglass,” Hollins said.

They’ll also offer hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment for voters and workers.

“(We’re) providing masks for anyone who needs them, and we’re providing finger covers so that a voter can come in and operate that machine without physically touching it,” he said.

The July 14 runoff will feature 107 voting centers.

“The parties have done a good job recruiting for July, and we feel comfortable there,” Hollins said.

The new county clerk is urging people to vote-by-mail if they qualify.

A legal battle to expand that right to everyone because of the pandemic is still tied up in court.

“The lack of immunity to COVID-19 cannot be the only factor that you’re thinking about, and so a perfectly healthy person would not be eligible,” Hollins said. “However, it’s up to the voter, him or herself, to decide if their health circumstances would create a likelihood of them being injured, and if so, they qualify, and they can vote by mail.”

The County Clerk’s Office has sent out nearly 400,000 applications to senior citizens, with more than 80,000 applications received so far. That’s a 25% increase over the March primary.

Hollins said his staff is using federal CARES Act money and state grants to upgrade their infrastructure to prepare for what could be a record-breaking November general election.

In-person early voting starts June 29 for the July runoff. The last day to apply for a mail ballot for that election is July 2.

RELATED: Harris County primary runoff elections set for July 14 due to coronavirus

RELATED: Harris Co. Clerk Diane Trautman resigns, cites COVID-19 pandemic, personal health concerns

RELATED: Texas Supreme Court puts expansion of voting by mail on hold

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